Alexis Sanchez breaks goal drought as Chile win 'very difficult game' against Japan in 2019 Copa America opener
The Manchester United forward admits 'for six weeks I felt worse than I ever have before' after overcoming knee injury to get on the scoresheet in Chile's 4-0 win in Group C
Alexis Sanchez ended a five-month goal drought to score the third goal in Chile's emphatic 4-0 victory against 2019 Copa America guests Japan in Sao Paulo.
The Manchester United forward had been barren in the goals department since scoring against Arsenal in the FA Cup on January 25 but put on a classy display as Japan were comprehensively beaten at the Morumbi Stadium.
Chile, the two-time defending Copa America champions, took the lead though Erick Pulgar who headed home a Charles Aranguiz corner four minutes before the break.
Eduardo Vargas doubled Chile's lead on 54 minutes and added a second in the dying minutes to become his country's all-time leading scorer at the Copa America with 12 goals, surpassing Marcelo Salas' previous mark.
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Sanchez had made it 3-0 a minute before Vargas' second with a diving header. The relief for Sanchez was palpable, with Chile's all-time leading scorer punching the air in delight after enduring a frustrating season at United where poor form and a knee injury blighted his season.
"For six weeks I felt worse than I ever have before," Sanchez told reporters. "I struggled in the first half as I felt stifled but in the second half I was more relaxed and played with more freedom and excitement."
Uruguay's 4-0 victory over Ecuador on Sunday means Chile are joint top of Group C after one match. Chile meet Ecuador on Friday after Japan face Uruguay on Thursday.
Japan are one of two guests in the South American championship alongside Qatar, who drew 2-2 with Paraguay on Sunday.
The beaten 2019 Asian Cup finalists fielded an inexperienced side, with manager Hajime Moriyasu keen to blood as many youngsters in preparation for the Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo next year.
Japan more than held their own against the South Americans in an even first half, with Gabriel Arias forced into a smart save from Shoya Nakajima's long-range effort.
Chile slowly began to get a foothold in the game, with Sanchez flashing a shot just past Keisuke Osako's far post before Pulgar broke the deadlock on 41 minutes.
Aranguiz delivered a corner from the right that caused panic stations in the Japan goalmouth, allowing Bologna midfielder Pulgar leapt high above Yuta Nakayama to head home.
Striker Ayase Ueda missed a gilt-edged chance to draw Japan level minutes later, but the 20 year old could not get his angles right after rounding Arias.
Chile doubled their lead on 54 minutes. Vargas, who plays his club football in Mexico, scored at his fourth major international tournament with the aid of a wicked deflection off Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Ueda missed another chance in the 69th minute but Chile slammed the door shut on hopes of a revival when Sanchez headed in Aranguiz's cross on 82 minutes before Vargas made it 4-0 a minute later, with Sanchez providing the assist.
Japanese teenager Takefusa Kubo, who last week joined Spanish giants Real Madrid, missed a sitter late on that would have given the scoreline an air of respectability.
Despite having won the last two editions of the Copa, Chile are considered outsiders to win the tournament in Brazil after a downturn in form and results which led to them failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
"The important thing is that we move on now with humility," said Chile manager Reinaldo Rueda.
"This win doesn't suddenly make us a dream team, just as we weren't the disaster that our critics were saying we were before."
Sanchez said they were now on the right track.
"I think we have improved as a team since 2015 in defending and getting on the attack quickly," he added.
"We've won a very difficult game and now we have to think about our next one."
Updated: June 18, 2019 09:44 AM